When I caught sight of them, I had to look twice. It's been so long since they were last here, that their wide white wings spread against the cornflower blue of a January sky took me quite by surprise. My heartbeat pulsed in time with the rhythmic rise and fall of their wings, and my gaze remained transfixed on their long extended necks, held with such perfect poise, gracefully seeking home.
The swans had returned.
I have always felt a really deep affinity with swans. The curl of the swan's neck as it swoops down to the curve of its wing is truly one of the most beautiful sights, don't you think? The way its bright orange beak contrasts with the black markings around its eye. The magnificent profusion of glossy ivory feather upon feather upon feather. The seemingly effortless glide of its movements from one side of the loch to the other. The noise of rushing air as it draws itself to full height and beats its wings as warning.
This is beauty in one of its purest forms, is it not?
And yet, I can't help but remember the story of The Ugly Duckling... Towards the end of that tale, long after the soft, downy, grey, cygnet feathers have transformed into long, elegant, white, swan feathers, the swan still sees itself as ugly. Still feels ashamed of its appearance. Still tries to hide for fear of being shamed for what it perceives as its intrinsic unattractiveness. So much so that, even when he meets the other swans and they recognize him as one of their own, one as beautiful, as graceful as they, he doesn't believe them.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes relates this experience to the inability to receive and accept compliments. She says:
There is probably no better or more reliable measure of whether a woman has spent time in ugly duckling status at some point or all throughout her life than her inability to digest a sincere compliment... If you say how lovely she is, or how beautiful her art is, or compliment anything else her soul took part in, inspired, or suffused, something in her mind says she is undeserving and you, the complimentor, are an idiot for thinking such a thing to begin with. Rather than understand that the beauty of her soul shines through when she is being herself, the woman changes the subject and effectively snatches nourishment away from the soul-self, which thrives on being acknowledged, on being seen. ~ Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The return of the swans has me thinking about all those cygnets that have transformed into full grown swans, those tender-hearted new birds who still see themselves as ugly ducklings, everyone but them recognizing their true beauty. And it calls me to think how many times we don't see ourselves all that clearly. How we have an idea of ourselves, a vision of how we appear in the world, and how rarely that idea, that vision connects with reality.
I'm thinking of all the times I have refused compliments. I mean, sure, we accept them on the surface with a small smile, a self-deprecating shrug, a moment of embarrassed silence, a mumbled thanks. But do we allow them to penetrate to our soul? Do we allow them to nourish that part of ourselves that 'thrives on being acknowledged, on being seen'?
Next time, let yourself be truly seen, acknowledged, appreciated, complimented. Let it sink deep into your skin and soak into your soul. Let it nourish your swan-self.
Here are some of my favourite swan photographs to help you visualize your swan-self...
A true lover of stories, Amy Palko spends her days reading, writing, knitting and dreaming… well, that is when she's not being kept busy home-educating her three kids! She is the creatrix of Virgins & Lovers: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Goddess, exploring goddess myths and moon cycles through story, journalling, visualisation and creative exercise.